While I was part of a small group that spent the day with Mahmoud, the rest of the group hadn’t heard from him or spoken to him yet. He was our last speaker before we would go to dinner at the home of a Palestinian couple.
Mahmoud’s father was a teacher in the Refugee camp. As a result, Mahmoud and all his siblings went to school in the camp. As he talked about the camp and the significance of these refugees living here for 71 years now, I found myself questioning why it still exists. What purpose does this camp serve? It’s not a short-term housing option until they are able to return home. It breeds hatred and violence. Is it just a way to create rhetoric and leverage? I have to believe that with only 5,000 people living in the camp we could find a way to help them find a permanent home and begin a new life. After 71 years, there is no excuse to be living in ‘temporary’ housing.
Mahmoud started the bookstore with a goal of creating a place for conversations. Authors, discussions, and cultural events are held at the bookstore. He believes that it is through culture, music and sports that the new leadership for the Palestinian people will develop and he is doing his part to make that happen. East Jerusalem is his home – when he has to go to West Jerusalem for business, he feels uncomfortable. His Palestinian identity is primary there. When he needs to get away and ‘escape’, he goes to Tel Aviv, where he is just seen as a person. He feels no judgment. I find it very interesting that a 30-minute train ride or a 45-minute drive is all it takes to find a place within Israel that does what he and others like him want – treat them with dignity and fairness. It shows me that this is possible and there is hope.
He spoke about his and others issues with the Israeli government. He wanted to be very clear that this was about Israel the country and the government and Palestinians, not Jews and Arabs. He acknowledged that the conflict has blurred the line from being anti-Israeli government to anti-Jewish to anti-Semitism. He believes the only way to address this is through building relationships with people and working to make the government change their policies.
There were two final points he discussed that concerned me for different reasons. The first is his belief (and I have heard it from many other Palestinians) that the creation of Israel is what caused the Palestinian problem and so it’s Israel’s job to fix it. There is no comprehension of shared responsibility for both the cause and the solution. I fear that without shared responsibility, we will not find a solution. The second point related to his belief that a 1-state solution is the answer. Jews, Palestinians, Christians, and others all living together on the land in a shared state. The problem is that he doesn’t understand the importance to Israelis and Jews that this be a shared JEWISH state. Without that understanding, without realizing that a JEWISH state is a red line that can’t be crossed, I also fear we will not have peace.
It made me wonder what our red lines are. Safety and security. A Jewish State. What else? What are the things that we can risk but only if we build trust? Where do we start?
I’m not an Israeli and I don’t vote in Israel’s elections. As a community leader I believe it is my responsibility to ask these hard questions of myself and of the community. Together we can understand what our red lines are. What are the things we will defend and what are the things we need to be prepared to give up if/when we have trust?
One thing has become clear to me. The status quo is not sustainable. Change is coming. It’s just a matter of when and how.